Why Learning How to Tell Your Story Can Help You Align Your Purpose and Your Paycheck

Over the last year of remote work, Zoom school, and simply trying to stay healthy, many of us have been wondering about our careers, and about whether our current job allows us to be the best version of ourselves – for ourselves, for our families, and for our communities.  Some of us have lost the jobs and titles that seemed to define us and are reflecting on career issues as a matter of necessity.  But the solitude and isolation that we all experienced has brought up, even for many whose careers seemingly remain on track, questions like “What is my purpose?” and “Could I earn a paycheck in a way that enables me to fulfill that purpose?”

I have been in the position of asking similar questions at various stages of my life.  In my first job after undergrad, as a Marketing Specialist at Digital Equipment Corporation, I saw colleagues with 20+ years of experience caught up in a mass layoff through no fault of their own.  Several years later, the apparently solid and stable consulting firm that employed me was completely shuttered owing to its association with a major corporate scandal.  During the 2009 economic downturn, my own consulting business abruptly lost 60 percent of its client base.  Most recently, I found myself pondering these questions when I came to realize that my purpose had evolved beyond the executive role that I had held for four years with a particular nonprofit organization.

At each of those turning points, I took stock of my situation – seeking inspiration from a favorite author, guidance from a mentor, enrolling in a seminar, or working with a coach – and spent some time assessing my strengths and weaknesses, where I wanted to go and how I might get there.  I also thought through how to re-position myself for my desired career move: by refreshing my resume and LinkedIn profile, of course, but also by generating content to support my new positioning, by seeking out speaking opportunities to build visibility in the new conversations that I wanted to participate in, and by re-sharing older material that I had written or in which I had been quoted.

The last time I began such a process was in 2018.  At that time, I observed that many people had been seeking me out for career guidance and for assistance with their LinkedIn profiles and with matters related to their careers, businesses, or organizations.  Looking through the content that I had created over many years, I realized that everything I had done throughout my career – from working as a Marketing Specialist in the information technology industry to teaching nonprofit leaders about Digital Storytelling at New York University – had always been about helping others to tell their stories for maximum effect.  That realization led me to form two new businesses.  Through the first of these entities, called Liz Ngonzi Transforms, I work with leaders looking to clarify their purpose, develop their story and communicate it effectively to stakeholders such as clients, partners, investors and potential employers.  Through the second, called The International Social Impact Institute, I assemble teams of trusted collaborators to deliver training, consulting services and events that are meant to amplify the voices and impact of purpose-driven leaders from historically marginalized communities – enabling them to clarify, develop and share their stories with stakeholders such as prospective funders, partners, and employees.

I would like to inspire you to undertake a similar process of clarifying, developing and sharing your story with the goal of aligning your purpose and your paycheck.

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Finding Your North Star: Aligning Your Purpose and Your Paycheck

Elizabeth (Liz) Ngonzi MMH ’98 is founder and CEO of The International Social Impact Institute™, which is currently developing training programs and events to help non-governmental organizations in under-resourced communities in the U.S. and around the world rebound from the pandemic.

“Now is the right time for all of us to get involved and engaged,” she says. “What’s seemingly impossible is possible if you focus on what you want to do and why you’re doing it. You are able to create a lot of change.”

“You don’t necessarily need to leave your corporate job to have a social impact,” Liz says. “There is a spectrum of organizations you can get involved with.” She notes that these include existing non-profits, such as Cornell University, for-profit corporations with a social impact mission, such as Patagonia, and funders, such as foundations and venture philanthropy organizations.

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How This iSchool Alum Uses Digital Skills For Social Impact

If there’s anything you should know about Liz Ngonzi (’92), it’s that she’s bold, she’s courageous, and she’s devoted her life to strengthening the social impact ecosystem around the globe.

But her path to a career as a social entrepreneur, educator, and international speaker didn’t take the direction you might expect.

It’s true that Liz has always been a bit of an entrepreneur. By the time she was 14 years old, she had created a babysitting service and scaled to at least six different client families. It was a “baby empire,” as she describes it.

When she came to Syracuse University in 1988, however, she didn’t major in business. Instead, she started out in visual and performing arts. About mid-way through her freshman year, a mentor introduced her to the iSchool. She was hooked and decided to transfer in the following semester.

“I barely knew how to type!” Liz said, “[But] I loved the fact that you could solve problems with technology and information.”

In 1992, the year Liz graduated, the country was in the midst of a recession. While many of her peers took jobs waiting tables just to get by, she graduated with five job offers in hand. She started receiving some of them as early as the fall of her senior year and credits the real-world skills learned in her major with making her stand out in a struggling economy.

Liz ended up taking a job in marketing with Digital Equipment Corporation, the legendary computer company founded by Ken Olson and Harlan Anderson. They had recruited her as one of 16 people nationwide for their exclusive Marketing Development Program, a rotational program which exposed her to areas such as aerospace marketing, corporate communications and sales. Following that, she worked in B2B sales for MICROS Systems Inc., the leading provider of hospitality Point of Sales Systems in the world, where she learned about the hospitality industry through her clients, ranging from independent restaurants to amusement parks.

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The Future Relationship between Business, Government and Non-profits

In conversation with Liz Ngonzi, an international speaker on digital innovation, philanthropy and leadership, talking about the future relationship between businesses, Government and non-profits, what the world can learn from people it traditionally labels as disadvantaged and how corporations are responding to the social justice movement in relation to African Americans.

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Digital Storytelling to Inspire and Attract Funders in a Time of Crisis

The budget cuts resulting from the global economic downturn of 2009 forced nonprofits onto digital platforms to more efficiently and cost-effectively connect with their stakeholders, but that stakeholder engagement remained primarily on a personal—not a virtual—level. Fast forward to the the global pandemic of 2020, during which most of our professional interactions have become virtual, and we see that organizations have discovered how critical digital platforms are (and will be) to their success, both during and after the pandemic. Now their primary vehicles for inspiring, attracting, and activating donors are stories delivered through a digital storytelling ecosystem that includes their websites and those of their key partners; social media; virtual events; messenger services such as WhatsApp; email; live and recorded videos; and charity information sites such as GuideStar.

At the same time, during the last few months, foundations’ priorities have shifted toward two key issues that have risen to prominence: COVID-19 relief/response and social justice. Not only will funders be interested in supporting organizations that have been negatively affected by COVID-19, but they will be particularly drawn to those that have pivoted in response to it by developing new offerings, delivering services more efficiently, and serving new populations. Equally, funders are going to be looking for grantee alignment with issues of social justice—looking, that is, for organizations committed to the empowerment of under-resourced communities, to diversity of board and leadership composition, and to socially aware programming and engagement with issues of equity and inclusion. In crafting an organization’s message, therefore, it is increasingly necessary to incorporate content and highlight organizational elements that reflect such commitments.

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